Collection of articles by Lambeth Labour members published in London Labour Briefing in the 1980s
Many of the Labour councillors were supporters of London Labour Briefing Magazine, a left wing monthly that was popular among the left of the party especially on local government issues.
Ted Knight, Joan Twelves, Greg Tucker and Graham Norwood were regular contributors on local government issues and Marc Wadsworth wrote on the dispute over Black Sections in the party.
This is some of the articles by the Lambeth Labour left during this time.
When Labour won the council elections in Lambeth in 1978, Ted Knight became the head of the council. In an early issue of London Labour Briefing, he outlines what he describes as “Our greatest challenge” – Ted Knight (November 1981), the looming fight over Michael Heseltine’s plans to cap councils spending. Knight argued that this would “bring to an end a constitutional and historical relationship between central and local government which has existed for centuries.”
In the 1982 election, Labour narrowly lost the council by one seat after a concerted campaign by the Tory backed Streatham Rate Payers Association to attack the ‘profligate’ council. Although Labour had the most councillors, for six months Lambeth was led by a Tory/Social Democratic Party/Liberal Alliance coalition. However within a few months an SDP councillor defected and became an independent, offering to vote with the Labour group which meant a change in control of the council chambers. Lambeth: We’re back! – Ted Knight (December 1982)
After Thatcher’s re-election in 1983 there was a showdown with local government and the unions. The miners’ strike was a pitched year long battle between the government and the strongest union of the British working class, the National Union of Miners. Left Labour councils like Lambeth did their bit to support the miners, as Greg Tucker and Joan Twelve describe South London supporters the miners! – Greg Tucker and Joan Twelves (June 1984).
As well as the miners’ strike, The Rate Act was due to be imlemented by 1985 – signalling a head on confrontation with left Labour councils over their budgets. Lambeth took the lead in organising the fight back, and the councils affected agreed a “no rates” strategy – not to set illegal budgets but to refuse to set the rate (local taxes) at the reduced rate. In an article in December 1984 local councillor Des Atkins explained the thinking of the Lambeth Labour group, to unite the trade unions, CLPs and communities in a joint struggle against Thatcher’s government. Fighting rate capping in Lambeth – Des Atkins (December 1984) The Greater London Council, led by Ken Livingstone, was also due to be rate capped, and deputy leader and head of finance John McDonnell called on the Labour Party to Open up the second front! – John McDonnell (March 1985) of local government struggling alongside the miners to defeat Thatcher.
As the councils met to discuss their budgets, a protest was called outside the GLC, across the river from Parliament Lambeth: Towards 7th March demonstration! – Graham Norwood (March 1985).
But disaster struck as Ken Livingstone publicly argued the dangers of “going illegal” and pushed for a legal budget that had no cuts with some financial maneuvers. A number of Labour councillors at the GLC voted for a rate that took the GLC out of the fight and many other councils that had promised to fight it out all collapsed. By June only Liverpool and Lambeth struggled on. As the collapse spread, the Labour Parties in Lambeth urgently appealed for solidarity Lambeth says no rates, no surcharge – don’t leave us to fight alone! – Joan Twelves and Greg Tucker (July 1985)
The next month Joan Twelves called on the labour movement to come to the aid of the embattled councillors Lambeth Labour: Rally to our cause – Joan Twelves (August 1985). Bloodied but unbowed, the Lambeth councillors remained unrepentent, after all they were carrying out agreed party policy to resist the cuts; “Labour’s leadership must stand up and publicly declare as Eric Heffer has done that ‘we will do everything to support the councillors – they are carrying our party policy'” wrote Joan Twelves.
In an interview with Ted Knight in August 1985, Knight argues that it is crucial to bring in the wider party and community to not only support the 31 councillors facing bankruptcy but to fight for a no cuts, community needs budget for the following year Lambeth 31 defiant – Interview with Ted Knight (August 1985)
As the District Auditor moved to surcharge the councillors and it was clear that over £127,000 would have to be raised, Lambeth: From the council chambers to the wider movement – Graham Norwood (August 1985), in the battle against Thatcherism and the destruction of local government in the UK the question was clear “The war is here – whose side are you on?”